This year, the topic of the World Goodwill Seminar in Geneva, New York and London was Rebuilding the Shrine of Human Living. The crucial importance of this idea was thrown into sharp relief by the terrorist incidents of the night before in Paris. By a strange synchronicity a Parisian image (see above) was selected months before the event to accompany seminar publicity material. It is the light of the Sun, symbol of life, love and wholeness, shining through the glass pyramid of the Louvre museum, one of the great repositories of civilisation. There could hardly be a more fitting symbolic counterpoint to the deluded destructiveness of the attackers.
The breadth of the topic allowed the invited presenters to explore it from many angles, and a number of unifying themes could be sensed across all three meetings: the central importance of intelligent love; the need for people of goodwill to work in groups or communities; the necessity for sharing of all resources; the concrete working out of this principle of sharing in international agreements such as those governing climate change; the education and support of youth as vital; and the need to find ways to creatively transform conflicts. The material which follows is therefore arranged thematically to show these points of resonance. It is also summarised to a degree, while striving to maintain the note of each presenter. To view archival video of London and New York and listen to audio from Geneva, please go HERE. And for details on the presenters, please see the end of the newsletter.
In opening remarks in London, it was noted that what is needed in human civilisation at this time might be termed the Spirit of Relationship which “burn[s] away all barriers in human nature, all separating walls between individuals, between groups and between nations.” This naturally relates to the alchemising power of the heart, which was explored by Sarida Brown.
Alchemy for Transformation in the World
Sarida began her reflections by noting that we have the choice as to whether we address every second of our life through love or through fear. She remarked, “We are given this great choice and it is not something which we can bypass”. She shared two epithets about the Sufi tradition in which she is nurtured: that Sufism is the path of the heart; and that it is the path of spiritual freedom. The two are linked in the understanding of Sufi mystics, because the place where we realise the divine being, or Truth, the place where God is found, is in the deepest depth of the human heart – the spiritual heart. It is the heart which has the quality, the responsibility and power, to realise what is true. This capacity is in each person, and development comes through realising it in every moment, progressively embracing the truth that allows love to overcome fear.
An aspect of the maturing of the spiritual heart is how it is deepened by pain: “The heart is not living until it has experienced pain”. Sufi poetry is full of such imagery. The heart has the capacity to alchemically transform all experience, whether of success or failure, love or fear, joy or sorrow, into qualities that are of use to others – provided that the heart stays open. In such ways the heart develops qualities of sympathy, unconditional love and compassion for oneself and for others, expanding from oneself to the other and to all others.
In Sufi mythology, the heart is also spoken of as the throne of God and the shrine of God. The more the human heart becomes the altar for union between the human and the divine, the more it incarnates universality, as the reality of universal human consciousness manifesting in this life.
In Arabic, the word for heart is qalb: the root of which means turning, overturning and changing. The image is that the heart, when it is freed from the chains of the ego, is being constantly turned and aligned with the manifestations of divine reality. Ibn Arabi, the great 13th century Sufi mystic, wrote that the principle of existence is movement. We become true servants as we let go of our ego constructs and surrender to divine movement.
Thus, the heart is the mediator between the divine and the human. It acts as a pivot between human existence and divine reality, able to reflect and draw down the realities of the higher planes into consciousness and matter in this physical plane, and equally able to ‘upload’ the essence and wisdom that is eternalized through realization in this life. In this way, the heart is the instrument of evolution. The image in the Sufi tradition is that God creates the universe out of love and is engaged in Her/His own continuous evolution through each one of Her/His creatures. We are the instruments through which God, ‘The Real’, is evolving.
A beautiful image of the journey bridging the individual and the universal is that we become the instruments through which God sees and hears, through the eyes and the ears of the heart. As the human being evolves in spiritual realization, the heart perceives through the mode of universal consciousness, freed from the limitations of the personal. The heart also develops an unprecedented creative power which could be described as the divine power acting through the consciousness of the realized human being. It includes the power of transforming consciousness and matter. Hazrat Inayat Khan said that the power of concentration is even more important in a healer because the healer works to transform matter. This clearly applies to the great beings who are the healers of our societies.
The fiery energy of love and the directing power of the will are key ingredients of groups and communities which strive to serve. Tom Ravetz connected the formation of these communities with a modern understanding of cooperation with the angelic or deva hierarchies.
Working with the Angels: Community Building in the New Age
Tom noted that a theme that runs through the work of Rudolph Steiner, is the reality of the spiritual hierarchies and suggestions about how to work with them. We can work with quite clear concepts, adopting them as hypotheses to see whether they allow us to do our work in the world, our service, more purposefully and with greater possibilities of loving.
When we think about the angels as they are traditionally called, the spiritual hierarchies, we have a kind of help now, different from even 10 or 20 years ago, in the reality of our digital world; because it is no longer surprising to think of something like a global intelligence. In the emerging global intelligence we can see a counterpart for the idea that there are indeed intelligences in the world, spiritual helpers which are not physically embodied. We think of these minds ascending, or perhaps you could say widening, so we have the image of increasing radii of awareness, so there is an angel who has the capacity to accompany a human being through a life-time, or perhaps, if one has that thought, through many lifetimes. Then there could be an Archangel, or a higher being or a wider being we could say, who has the capacity to accompany many human beings, in communities, in groupings, or in nations, giving us the idea of the spirit of a folk or a nation. Beyond that, we have the so-called Archai, the time-spirits, whose consciousness can extend to embrace a whole humanity.
I would like to start by thinking of the time spirit, in the changed context of the aftermath of the events in Paris. Terror is an everyday reality for large parts of the world. But when something happens like yesterday in Paris, suddenly terror comes close to us, very close to us. In such a moment, we can ask, could this help me to think of the time-spirit, an embracing intelligence which also bears the purposes and the aims of humanity within it? How does such an intelligence look at the events that have been unfolding on the streets of Paris? How would the Angel of the Age look at the newspaper? Probably with rather different criteria than we have. I don't even know who else died in the world yesterday, violently and maybe even through terror tactics; and why is that? Because Paris interests me an awful lot more. If three people die in London it is front page news, if one hundred people die in Ankara it is page 3, and if a thousand people die in Southern India it is page 22. So there is a kind of individual, group and national egotism that we have because we can identify with things that are close to us. If we can imagine an intelligence that embraces the whole of humanity, in his newspaper there is only the front page; nothing is relegated to the inside pages. But then we can also ask, how does he evaluate what we are working on, how does he see the challenges we have set ourselves? We are part of a team of 7 billion: what is it that we are exploring, what discoveries are we making?
Taking the journey down the hierarchies and thinking of the next level down, can it be helpful to imagine that whenever we do something in a group, perhaps starting with the smallest group, and going all the way up to something like a nation, that there is a kind of counterpart? Even our community today would have its counterpart in an intelligence that can encompass all our individual destinies. Perhaps our angels all met last night to plan today’s meeting. Such a convocation of angels wants to become the vessel for a higher intelligence; probably not a fully-fledged Archangel because, after all, this is a temporary community, this community for this afternoon. But nevertheless, an angel that is evolving towards Archangelic status so to speak.
One of the wonderful pictures of the spiritual beings that Rudolf Steiner gives us, is that unlike us, each rank finds its fulfilment in allowing itself to be permeated by the next higher rank. On the earth we have to work quite hard to make sure to stay good and separate, and if someone wants to take me over that is very worrying, and I should make sure I keep them out. In the angelic world it is rather the other way around. The angels love nothing more than to become vessels for Archangelic beings. That is where we can start to feel how working with these ideas can be a help to us: because the Archangelic beings also want to align themselves with the collective purposes of humanity. We can start to sense how to work out what is the quality of a group or a community that I get involved in. Because of course, when human beings come together, there is a shadow side as well as a positive side. There are such things as cliques, there is such a thing as the wrong kind of nationalism so to speak; how do we discern that? Only if we have a picture of world purpose, which will filter down through the ranks of beings until my angel passes it down to me and I can decide whether to align myself with ultimate reality, or turn aside. Then this might give us some diagnostic tools for looking at what is playing out not only on the streets of Paris, but also in the skies of Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan. As humanity, what question are we grappling with?
One possibility is that we are grappling to decide whether fear or love is the most important power in the world. There is quite a lot of evidence that we think that fear is the most important power. Is the war on terror the attempt to combat fear with fear? But we are also in an age where we can witness an amazing upsurge in love, in empathy, going far beyond national borders, people reaching out to each other around the world. You can find evidence for this being the central struggle. This would fit with what many of us might think of as the central purpose of world-evolution, that we advance to self-giving, creative love, as an image or imitation of the divine. The question would be whether it helps us to do our work better, to be of service, to be loving in the world, if we imagine that this purpose for the world is cascading down the ranks of the angels, giving us the choice about how we wish to align ourselves.
Flow of Life, the Cardiovascular System and Our Shrine
Thomas invited participants to reflect on our connection to the flow of life. He noted that there are very few precious moments when we are able to sense and consciously participate in this flow. Yet these moments do come and each of these represents a stable building block of the one Shrine. Approaching this thought from the angle of science, he cited the way in which light travels from point to point in space as a symbol of how we may participate in the circulation of light and life. Other models from science include the cardiovascular system. One of the expressions of the flow of life on the physical level can be found in the circulation of blood. This activity of sharing the gift of life to all cells within the body is continuous, and represents an aspect of mindfullness, interrupted only at the end of a given incarnation. This sharing takes place not only on the level of individual cells but goes deeper, even to the atomic level. A key role in the distribution of oxygen is provided by iron, which usually in atmospheric conditions loses its superficial shine, due to its reaction with oxygen and the formation of rust. By contrast, in our blood iron creates a bond with oxygen with the purpose of distributing pure Life, and rust formation does not occur.
Indeed, sharing represents a key characteristic of iron and metals in general. Most substances create their bonds by sharing some electrons usually between a few close neighbours. Metal atoms, however, give up some electrons to create a so-called sea of almost free electrons that can be shared by all atoms present in the given object.
On the level of organs, the physical heart itself is a very effective service provider: only about 4% of the total flow of blood is used for keeping the heart muscles in operation. Returning to the cellular or tissue level, we can consider the tissue called endothelium, which is in contact with blood both in our vascular system and also in other organs. Recent research shows how important the status of this tissue is for our health. The status of our arteries and the function or dysfunction of endothelium can be easily and non-invasively measured with a pulse wave, a technique which Thomas uses in his service work.
So what can we learn from the models around us on how to be more effective in the construction of the Shrine of human living? For example, do we seek light so that we can truly serve like the trees? Trees seem to be very close to the higher spiritual realms in terms of their ability to continually seek light and penetrate the earth in order to create a Shrine of Life. Their every effort is used for this single purpose, which serves not just the trees themselves, but intensifies Life around them, by enabling an ecosystem of other plants and animals through the intelligent circulation of Light and Water. Do we share enough like the atoms of metals, to reach the high levels of conductivity in response to the spiritual inspiration offered in the cosmic bloodstream of pure Life? The value of 200 euros can represent a place for one child in a Buddhist monastery for one year, including all food, lodging and education. In this way the life of a child can be saved from poverty or even more serious dangers. How much is spent on consumption not necessarily needed instead of investing in the Life of others? Our current economic model is very much focused on creating economic growth via increased consumption of goods and services that often were not purchased with any noble aim or higher purpose. This crystallised economic model is, however, in complete contradiction to what can be learned from natural models. Creating real value, and sharing it almost freely with no barriers seems to be the way of nature.
The creative tension between this potential evolutionary goal and the current reality is probably expressed in the widespread incidence of heart disease. Every disease can be understood as a signal of deviation from the right path and a lesson on how to realise it. Can an economic model more truly based on the free circulation of the heart become our reality?
Towards a New Economy
Daniel began by citing three key laws: the Law of Unity, which reveals the synthesis of all existence; the Law of Right Relationship, attracting us into relationships; and the Law of Economy, governing the world of the individual unit, be it an atom, a person, a corporation or a nation. He noted that these three laws express the fundamental triplicity of Will, Love, and Intelligence. The problem is that, as long as human consciousness identifies primarily with the separative Law of Economy, selfishness and conflict will reign.
In this context, we should not forget that the world economy is itself a form created under the Law of Economy. Only when the Law of Right Relationship and the Law of Unity start emerging as a reality in consciousness, and begin to practically demonstrate as the will-to-good, does selfishness start to abate, and only then can the Law of Economy be wielded for the benefit of the whole.
We find ourselves, therefore, at a time when two opposing world views are confronting each other: an emerging world view based on group collaboration, sharing, and true human values; and the existing world view based on the power of the individual, competition, exploitation and material values. The emergence of the new world view provides clear evidence that the consciousness of humanity is indeed transforming.
When this transformation occurs on a large enough scale it will inevitably result in two things. Firstly, the body of accepted truths which has established our current world order will gradually be superseded by a new body of truths. Secondly, the institutions of society will need to adapt. The traditional corporate form which seeks to maximise shareholder wealth serves the old paradigm. Fortunately, a more inclusive adaptation of this corporate form is emerging.
The essence of human experience has therefore to do with the quality of relationships established by activity and regulated by laws. The current conflict between the separative Law of Economy, and the gradually strengthening Law of Right Relationship, expresses the progressive evolution of human consciousness.
Money provides the link between supply (business) and demand (consumers) through the system of payment for human activity (gainful employment). Money is to the economy what blood is to the human body. At the moment, this vital energy does not find its way to all human beings, because supply recognises only monetised demand and not human need. The proliferation of NGOs and of initiatives such as the Bill Gates and Warren Buffet Giving Pledge, demonstrate widespread recognition that the system of economic distribution is dysfunctional. To address the economic problem of distribution requires the will to share.
At the level of humanity, we currently find an absence of a collective human will. The United Nations strives to embody this collective will, and is beginning to establish the outlines of a common human purpose, expressed previously in the Millennium Development Goals, and now by the Sustainable Development Goals. The nation states, in which material power resides, often stand in opposition to the UN because, while they express to some degree the Law of Right Relationship towards their citizens, they mainly express the Law of Economy towards other nations. The major transnational corporations, on the other hand, arguably embody in miniature an integrated world of nations, but expend all their power in the pursuit of narrow, material objectives, and care insufficiently about the problems of humanity. Thus, the political and economic agendas followed by the various players in the world economy represent a selfish response to the current economic situation. This is strange, because it is well known that cooperation between team members is far more effective than competition. If this applies to teams, why wouldn't it apply to teams of teams?
It is for this reason that the UN Sustainable Development Goals are of such vital importance, as they provide the beginnings of a common human vision. These goals should be a central part of education in every nation. The key to inducing systemic change is in the right education of the world's children and it is likely that this change will only be brought about by the force of an enlightened public opinion. The will to share must prevail over the desire for material accumulation.
The competitive drive towards integration and automation will paradoxically see the end of competition, as competition simply does not work in an integrated system. In this context, perhaps the most interesting development in the economy is the emergence of business ecosystems, where success depends increasingly on the mutual success of ecosystem partners, and so group collaboration becomes a necessity. In a similar way, groups of countries are forming trade relationships in order to strengthen their economic hand relative to other groups of countries.
Imagine a world executive board comprised of wise individuals of the highest integrity overseeing the entire world economy – one corporate enterprise comprised of nations and businesses. Viewing the economy in this way, the following observations might emerge:
1) What should be the purpose of the world economy? Is not the purpose the intelligent use of resources and the equitable distribution to all of the goods and services needed for living?
2) With today's technology, does a global framework governed by right business incentive, and based on true human values, become a possibility?
3) How can we avoid systemic failure by shifting from a competitive to a collaborative mind-set while retaining the creative entrepreneurship of the existing system?
4) We face the problem that a small number of individuals and groups have appropriated planetary resources, and our legal system supports this. Yet the legal system was used during the time of Abraham Lincoln to ensure that human beings could no longer be the property of powerful men. To what extent can the same principle be phased in over time with respect to all planetary resources?
5) What new forms of work will humanity find, and how can we ensure that it is appropriately remunerated so that the needs of all are met?
6) To address the inequality in the economic system requires a different approach to education which applies globally. The basis of all education has to be those true human values which lie at the heart of all world religions.
7) Money is created by the commercial banks by imposing debt on all other units within the economy. This leads to an inequitable enrichment of the financial sector via an endless interest stream. How can money creation and investment be made in a way which benefits the world society as a whole?
At no time in human history has it been so evident that humanity is an evolving organism. Nations and transnational corporations are themselves organs within the greater organism of humanity. The UN is the human organ which endeavours to perceive humanity as a whole. It represents the light of wisdom in the collective mind of humanity, which resonates with a rapidly growing number of men and women of goodwill. The UN is attempting to bring order into planetary processes, so that humanity is able to respond consciously and holistically to major planetary events. The economic paradigm of material growth, and its associated law of competition, is the single greatest barrier to human progress. Breaking through this economic paradigm is the major challenge of our time.
The Invisible Heart: Sharing the World's Resources
Why is there a need for sharing? The reality is that we are in the midst of a global emergency. We have all heard the statistics: how the richest 1% of the world population will soon own as much as everybody else in terms of assets and wealth. There is essentially a growing level of inequality in the world, and going against the general understanding, there are actually more people living in poverty than ever before. The situation with climate change was in the news recently. We know that we have already exceeded the 1 degree increase in global average temperatures and we are on course for a 4 degrees increase by the end of the century. And there is an escalation of conflicts over scarce resources. So we need to find ways of globally sharing wealth and natural resources more equally and in a way that is cooperative and doesn't lead to conflict.
What is the right way to structure the market: should it be through limited companies, or are there other models that are more able to share in an equitable fashion? Put in another way, will we have iPhones in paradise? I think there is a problem when it comes to companies growing in size to the extent that they become the Apples of the world. I admit, I have an iPhone and I am pragmatic in that respect, we need what we need. But I think we need to be careful about this idea of abundance and recognise that it is not just necessarily a material abundance that we should be after but a spiritual abundance. Abundance for me is ensuring that everybody has access to what they need to survive and to live. We have to recognise that at the moment we are consuming natural resources 50% faster than the earth can replenish them. The planet is in ecological overshoot. So, if we really want abundance, we need sustainable abundance. We need to use resources within the finite carrying capacity of the planet.
What is the eco-economy model that will lead us further? In a nutshell, it is an economy based on the principle of sharing, whereby we recognise that there is one planet worth of resources that we need to share and we distribute the resources in such a way that all people's needs are met. There are many reports from ecological economists, and Oxfam has published a report referred to as ‘the Doughnut report’ that looks at planetary and social boundaries. We just need to bear in mind the reality of abundance. 75% of the world population lives on less than $10 a day. That is not what they can spend in their own country, but what that $10 can buy in America. And there are 47,000 people who die every day because they don't have access to the basics. So we need to temper this idea of abundance with the reality of the world situation.
I am sure many people have heard about the commons movement which proposes a third category of ownership. Everything that is essential to life would be shared, everything outside this could be publicly or privately owned. Do you see any hope of this happening and how? Essentially I agree that the commons movement embodies an aspect of sharing, and there are many other examples that take a similar approach, whether we talk about the transition town movement or local currencies. The problem we have and the reason that things are getting worse is because even though there is a recognition that sharing is fundamentally who we are and therefore must be how we organise ourselves, the systems and institutions and policies which underpin the way that the economy works are all based on the old ways of self-interest. There is an idea of homo economicus, this idea that we are all self-interested, competitive, individualistic, utility maximisers. It is this idea that still informs policy making, not only within our country, but even global institutions. How does this emerging tendency towards sharing and commoning express itself in a world which is still underpinned by the fabric of national self-interest, competition and greed?
What keeps coming to me is community. It possibly falls within all of us to create that community of sharing. Do you believe that we will need to come out of this paradigm or is it individuals that will take the community and develop that within themselves? My short answer is that we need both. There is already this growing movement towards creating the alternative, and I already mentioned the transition towns, the commons movement, the sharing economy and the gift economy and everything else. This is great and very empowering for individuals and communities to connect with each other using new ways of organising. But it is not enough, it doesn't change the system. We also need to reclaim democracy. We need to rethink how the world’s resources are redistributed, because there are massive political issues there, there are structural issues that need to be addressed. By us coming out of the system and creating the alternative, we are not going to address these structural political, social, economic issues at all levels of society and it is really important that we do both. Often we have people who are working for transformational change, structural change, justice etc. who aren't engaged in creating the alternative and vice versa. We need to link both of these approaches.
I am all for sharing but how it is to be done matters. I have this company and I have this top job going for £100.000 and I will ask for applications and 27 applications come. Only one will get in, the other 26 will remain unemployed, so what do I do? In India they say you should renounce everything, sell everything. We have done a lot of experiments in society with sharing and welfare, with a lot of unintended consequences. What can we do differently about sharing so there aren't any unintended consequences from sharing? There is a massive shift globally towards not-for-profit models and co-operatives, where decision-making is more evenly distributed among stakeholders, and profits are shared more evenly amongst stakeholders too, they are not extracted by shareholders. These sort of models have been emerging for a very long time and there are 1 billion people globally who are now part of a co-operative. The second question around how do we share, there is literature here, you can go to our website, there are different ideas on how to establish systems that are broadly in line with the principle of sharing. Also, systems of welfare and social protection, there are problems with them, but essentially they are far better than not having them. They are very important in the developing world, where many countries are still lacking effective systems of welfare and social protection. So it is really important to strengthen and scale up these mechanisms within counties, and we need such systems in place globally as well. Exactly how we go about that is almost a secondary discussion, because at the moment we are moving in exactly the opposite direction. We need to demand something different and that is happening globally.
The point I am going to make is, to me the word share is a 2-way thing, somehow the sharing has to retain the self-respect of the person that is shared with to enable them to give something back to retain their self-respect. Your organisation hopefully enables us to move on from that muddle that is just donating. This is not about charity, it is not about giving individually. In fact there is a lot of literature that suggests that charity is part of the problem, because it maintains the status quo. The issue is justice, sharing really means justice. Our focus is how to create a just and sustainable world. It is about creating the economic, social and political systems that systemically embody the principle of sharing.
Your founder wrote a report that focuses on how article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights could be used, and this goes back to justice, as a touchstone for how you would establish systems of sharing. We are still exploring and developing this idea. The real question is how do we create change? We do need a global movement of citizens who are on the streets demanding change from their governments. There is evidence to suggest that the number of protests for social and economic justice have really escalated over the last decades, and we need people who are coming together with their heart open in the spirit of sharing, demanding common sense from their governments. Article 25 states that everybody has the right to the essentials of life. This is nowhere obvious in the world, in probably no country in the world. If we can’t even achieve that, what hope have we of addressing climate change? So this has got to be the starting point.
A lot of people talk about a coming global economic crash. How do you see something emerging from that to create a new economy? Also, someone mentioned humanity being at a turning point in terms of more people awakening to the Christ Consciousness. My question has to do with the concept of ownership and stewardship. How does your organisation bring the concept of stewardship into the concept of sharing? I think that when we talk about ownership, we think about my iPhone, but there are things that clearly need to be stewarded rather than owned by the nations of the world, or local communities. That is what the commons is focused on. The stewardship of common resources is not about ownership; but that doesn't mean that we can't own our own table and chairs. That is a different level of ownership. When it comes to things that really matter in the world, stewardship is preferable over ownership. On the bigger question on how change happens, the manifestation of the Christ principle, the realisation that we are one humanity, we are heading there. It could be, sadly, that another global economic crisis, a big crash, could catalyse that process. If that does happen, then we either resurrect the old system and it happens again, or we work together democratically to hash out a new system based on different principles, and undoubtedly sharing has to be part of that discussion.
Three points, first, how about the new ways of sharing that we see that align with the law of least resistance, for example AirBnB, Uber for instance. Secondly, your view on mobile phones provoked me a little bit. Especially in Africa the mobile phones are a very strong driver of increased justice, and distribution of new technology such as access to micro loans and the penetration of access to mobile phones in many countries in Africa is up to 80%, they leapfrogged beyond many things to get there. The third point relates to your comments on stewardship. The place to start with sharing is knowledge and education. Firstly, sharing is absolutely very much part of what it means to be human: evidence from anthropological and behavioural sciences demonstrates that sharing and cooperation is hardwired into us from a very early age. From an evolutionary perspective we wouldn't have been able to evolve as a species if we weren't able to share. In terms of AirBnB and Uber, they call themselves sharing economies, I take some issue with that, they are essentially renting rather than sharing. Mobile phones, yes you are right, there is a difference between the pragmatic use of mobile phones where necessary as a way of helping development, and our throwing away our phones every few months for the latest model, that is a massive waste of resources. There is a better way of doing it.
Do you have any final comments? We need to consider how we can become involved in trying to create the alternative, and in demanding change from our governments. If Christ was in the world today, surely he too would be demanding justice for those people who currently don’t have access to the resources that we take for granted? There are 17 million people who die needlessly every year, and fortunately, there are millions of NGOs, civil society organisations and campaigns out there, providing anyone who wishes to serve with abundant opportunities.
Jimena Leiva Roesch of the International Peace Institute shared her thoughts on how the new Sustainable Development Goals expand the scope of human responsibility for sharing.
The Sustainable Development Goals: A Collective Call for the Will
Jimena remarked that on September 25th, following an inspiring address by the Pope, the community of nations gathered at the UN to adopt a new Declaration described as a “charter for people and planet in the 21st century”. The Declaration, Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (which includes the 17 Sustainable Development Goals) highlights 5 key elements: peace, partnerships, people, planet and prosperity.
The 2030 Agenda sets a new paradigm in international thinking: first, the fundamental aspects of development – economic, social and environment – have been integrated. Each one no longer stands alone. Under the new thinking, economic growth can be achieved with social inclusion and with environmental integrity.
Second, the agenda is universally applicable: all countries – north and south– are committed to implementing it. This is perhaps the biggest shift. Decisions taken in one part of the world affect all others. Climate change, inequality and the root causes of poverty cannot be addressed if the industrialized world does not change. For advanced nations, whose only previous role was to be a donor, this is a very big paradigm shift. Now, they need to look inward, put their house in order and take responsibility to implement this agenda at home. For the United States, perhaps one of the most difficult goals is Goal 13, changing its unsustainable patterns of consumption and production. This requires deep changes in all our lifestyles.
Third, the definition of development has changed. Now, it includes issues that had previously remained outside its traditional scope – particularly peace and security and climate change. Separate communities now have the mandate to work together in a spirit of partnership. The community working on climate change was always aloof, away from the locus of the UN. It has now been integrated as a key part of the whole development process in goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. Most importantly, the peace and security community is now also encouraged to work with social and environmental communities. Here, the United Nations will need to redefine the way it works. Currently the Security Council hardly works together with the General Assembly, ECOSOC, and the Peacebuilding Commission. The 2030 agenda tries to break down the silos that have become so entrenched in our thinking. It reflects the shift from the Piscean age to Aquarius.
The fourth paradigm change is civil society engagement. During the two years that the SDGs were developed, the Secretary General mentioned that over 8 million views were received from civil society. Moreover, civil society did not leave the conference rooms where the SDGs were being developed. In the past, negotiations like this were most often conducted behind closed doors, only for governments.
Yesterday, there was a meeting at the UN on the synergies between the 2030 agenda and the future Paris Climate Change agreement. One of the conclusions was that they are part of one agenda, one vision of humanity. By 2016, the UN will have the opportunity and the challenge to operate under the most comprehensive framework on sustainable development in the history of the organization. This means individuals, all of us, who love the United Nations and are in touch with its work, will be required to be more vigilant and to remind ourselves that the vision has shifted.
Every time, we pray or say the Great Invocation – we end by saying, “Let Light and Love and Power restore the Plan on Earth”. The 2030 agenda may be seen as a manifestation, in a small way, of this master Plan on earth.
Jimena concluded by noting what it has meant for her to explore this topic of rebuilding the shrine of human living. As someone involved in these two government negotiations (most of the time involved outwardly), it meant turning inwards: dedicating some time to building a shrine inside herself; strengthening the voice of silence; dedicating more time to cleaning and evaluating her habits; integrating more the three bodies; and confronting several fears. For others, rebuilding the shrine may be entirely different, or opposite, perhaps being more outside in the world and less inside? Wherever we are, it means being able to sustain the new energies that are coming, and then being able to spread them. For that, the bodies need to be aligned and lightly continue walking.
Education for Global Citizenship – Signs of the Soul
Judit noted that since the 1950s university education has greatly expanded. There is increasing access to universities worldwide, the number of students studying at university has been growing, and global student mobility is increasing.
Aided by developments in information technology, the increasing numbers of students studying outside their home country leads to an increased awareness of transnational interconnectivity. Students are integrated into larger global networks and as a result experience higher awareness of oneness and, most importantly are likely to reshape their lives accordingly.
Three very large systems are currently used to prepare students for university in over 100 countries. What is significant is that they represent some common values that are emerging in education.
The first is the International Baccalaureate (IB), born in Geneva in 1971. Currently there are 4,200 schools in about 130 countries teaching IB programs. The mission is inspiring, aiming to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.
The second system, the Advance Placement (AP) Program, started in the United States in 1955 as a program for High School students interested in the sciences who were ready to take first year university level courses. The most recent innovation, the 2-year AP Capstone Program, is an interesting development. It is inter-disciplinary, global, and includes team-research and a seminar, along with courses that give a basis for subject knowledge. There are marked similarities with the IB program – the learning goals for students include:
• Thinking creatively to gain understanding
• Problem finding and problem solving
• Collaborating to solve a problem
• Synthesizing and making cross-curricular connections.
The cornerstone of the program is a one year seminar course where students can talk about any topic they choose – they are tested on skills like the ability to work in teams rather than on content.
The third major international system is the Cambridge Pre-U Programme which originates in the UK and now operates in about 130 countries. Combined with A-Level requirements the program is more focused on specialized subjects than the other two. Among the goals are:
• Encouraging the development of well-informed, open and independent-minded individuals
• Helping learners to acquire specific skills of problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, team-working, independent learning and effective communication
• Promoting an international outlook and cross-cultural awareness.
These three programmes provide clear evidence that soul qualities are increasingly being infused into education. Global student mobility is here to stay; it will continue to increase, enabling a higher level of awareness of humanity’s Oneness. And beyond the variety of approaches to learning in different countries, the following trends will continue in secondary school curriculum: collaboration with others; interdisciplinary learning; individualized learning; focus on skills, not content; shift away from memorization; focus on problem solving; promotion of understanding other cultures and people and emphasizing right human relations (“others can be right”); output-based assessments instead of input-based. Yet we are still at the beginning of the journey.
WYSE Heads on Young Shoulders
Hilary noted that WYSE International was set up to transform some of the ways that we are relating to each other as human beings, and specifically focussing on supporting young people who are emerging as leaders throughout the world. WYSE concentrates on how they can express a sense of service.
The context we are really thinking about is a global one. The interesting thing for WYSE is that the largest generation of young people that ever existed on the planet is the generation that is living now. Over half of the population on the planet is under the age of 35, and 90% of these people live in what we call the developing world. And through technology, we have more access to alternative ways of seeing the world, and more of us are on the move. We are moving to the city from a more rural based demographic. That calls into question how we use resources. As Rajesh was saying, what does consumption look like? If everyone on Earth wants to live in the style we are accustomed to here, it is going to take more than 3 planets worth of resources. And we are starting to get some feedback from our planet, the climate is warming up, we have to ask whether there is clean water and food for everybody? This is the context in which over half of the world population is growing up. These are the kind of questions that we ask the leaders that we bring onto our programmes to engage with. We ask them to engage with the question, what is our role in all of this? Kofi Annan said: "The way we educate the youth and leaders of tomorrow must also change, we must seize the moment to liberate and mobilize minds to face these challenges with strength and purpose". That is something that we at WYSE take very much to heart. Our core mission is to support emerging leaders for global change and our vision is a global network of emerging leaders who are inspired and who feel supported and connected to each other to make positive contributions in their communities.
WYSE primarily works with young people between 18 – 35, and typically we have around 30 participants from a spread of around 20 countries. The theme of bringing together as rich a diversity as possible is really important for us. We also run an advanced leadership programme where the theme is primarily focussed on the will – how do people engage their sense of will to translate their visions for the world into action? We are doing all this work pro bono, and we have professionals and experts who come and don't charge for their time. That means that we are able to reduce the costs significantly. We also offer bursaries and scholarships on top of that. For us it is really important that we are able to provide this kind of support for emerging leaders who wouldn't ordinarily be able to access this kind of leadership training.
Michael shared that WYSE has played a significant role in him being able to determine where he may make his best impact in the world. Currently he works with large multinational businesses, as part of a think tank with the stated purpose to inspire and enable businesses to lead the way to a sustainable economy. The businesses he has worked with are actively working with the challenge of how to incorporate sustainable practices into their business models. A lot has been made of the role of young people in supporting these kind of innovations and the role they have to play in even the larger multinationals which sometimes are very static and not likely to change their ways. According to recent surveys by companies like Deloitte and MacKenzie, the degree of aspiration from these individuals to lead is clear, and they expect a lot more from the businesses they are working in. In terms of the social responsibility that businesses demonstrate, he was at an event earlier this week where one of the four major energy providers in the world was talking about how long it would actually take to transition to a low carbon economy. He was struck by the power of their argument, but also by the fact that the likelihood of that actually happening within the company is driven by the younger people within the organisation. His vision is one in which humans and young adults are able to operate within planetary boundaries and perhaps more importantly, one in which we as individuals are able to thrive in all potential aspects of our lives, but especially through our day to day work and the businesses we are employed in.
Clarence noted that that there is a new story emerging and we are part of creating that story, both individually and on a group level. Part of that story as we know, has a lot of violence in it, as has been mentioned by other speakers today. We need to take into consideration the fact that the role of young people in this transformation is not all lovey-dovey and nice things, we are struggling as one humanity with what is the right way to put into actions what my ideals are. We talk about spirituality and we try to practice these things, and yet some people's perception of spirituality leads them to blow themselves up and take others with them. That question of responsible action is one thing that young people and older people are struggling with. How can we hold in mind the role of young people in the role of world transformation? And transformation to what, or into what? For Clarence, his picture of a humanity which is evolving into all the things that we value: sharing, caring and nobility, are summed up in the concept of a bodhisattva – the one whose heart is opened, whose mind is opened and illumined. And that this isn't an individual person, it is what humanity is struggling and striving towards and working out. That is what drew him to WYSE, as a practical example of a group of people who think it is worthwhile to nurture these nobler aspects of what it means to be human in young people. Clarence concluded by sharing the example of two WYSE participants, two sisters, both lawyers, who produce a magazine called Lawtoons, that breaks down the explanation of the law for children in cartoon form, so that children can start to understand the laws that operate in their country, and the rights that are enshrined in these laws. Young people educating even younger people. That kind of nourishing of the younger ones is part of this process.
Oliver Rizzi Carlson described one technique for resolving conflicts in a non-violent way which respects all participants and the fundamental sacredness of life.
A Sacred Society
One definition of sacredness is that it is "that which heals us in each moment", and Oliver noted that, while our experiences of the sacred may be fleeting, it is always potentially available to us. The problem is that most of our social systems embody instead the idea of separateness, which is often a potent source of suffering. The challenge is to evolve our consciousness towards an integrated world view till we can create systems that do not create suffering.
One area where it is particularly important to achieve this is in the field of conflict transformation systems. Where these currently exist, often these are state-controlled structures, at the national level, which apply laws and rules, with coercive methods, and a vision of fault and guilt, good and bad, etc. All this creates an experience of conflict that is very painful for everyone involved.
To see the violent nature of these structures is often hard (we speak of cultural violence), since we have used them for so long. Indeed, they do have some usefulness; but we increasingly notice their limitations. The word “violence” is appropriate, because we are beginning to see the way in which these structures violate life. Concepts that do not violate, but respect and allow life (that is to say, they create space for that which emerges) can be found in permaculture, alternative education, new economic models, and quantum science, among others. In these, we see interdependence, fluidity, autonomy, diversity, the relevance of thresholds, change, decentralization, sharing of resources and power, law of least effort, etc.
These aspects all have in common the idea of (re)creating intrapersonal, interpersonal and social connections, as they lie at the base of a different vision of peace. Peace is no longer behavior control (that which we call “order” and “security”), but a connection that allows us to maintain the link between us and life, that which moves us. Fundamentally, life is movement. Dialogue is this very same movement, which expresses the self while respecting the other, starting from and creating a larger connection and unity. As an example, let's focus on the “Restorative Circles” born in Brazil.
Restorative circles are part of a vision of human relations in which conflicts are seen as unavoidable, and even as life’s vehicles, because their origins stem from relations. The parties of the conflict are not two, but always three: the actor, the recipient of the action, and the community affected by their relations with the actors in the conflict.
Restorative circles thus create a structure of support that builds connection at each step of the process. The process culminates in the circle, where all the people involved can listen to one another and be heard. So we give ourselves a space in which the message carried in our sometimes painful expressions may be more easily heard, at the same time making any violence superfluous.
The creation of a restorative circle depends first of all on the agreement of a group of persons. Nothing is forced, and those involved agree on the principle that their relations are important beyond the problems they may be facing. There exists, therefore, a recognition of interdependence amongst everyone. There is also a recognition that conflicts are natural.
There is no hierarchy in the creation of these circles, and this sharing of power is expressed by the second element of the system: that the agreements on how it works are accessible at all times by all its members.
The third element is the circle activation mechanism, which has the purpose of communicating the existence of a conflict. This is also determined by all members. It should therefore be an accessible and practical mechanism, with the possibility of there being different ways of communicating the existence of a conflict. It is important to have an easy first step, in the moments when the weight of a conflict makes everything hard, in order to achieve a connection right from the start.
The fourth element concerns the development of circle facilitators, who are part of the existing community. Members of this group offer themselves in service to the community, and respond when someone activates the system. And the facilitators’ learning and development evolve within the restorative system itself. So when someone communicates the existence of a conflict, the first step is the creation of a pre-circle.
In a pre-circle, facilitators recognize interdependence by allowing the other person’s sharing to touch them. They seek to discover what would be required by the restorative circle. Finally, they confirm the willingness of the person to follow the process. Subsequent pre-circles with the persons mentioned by the first occur in the same way, sharing the power and following the connections that become visible. Connection with the experience of one another allows us to recognize the value of each experience; to become not impartial, but rather multi-partial.
The fifth element of a restorative system becomes as important during the circle: a physical space where the material environment contributes to the connection through the absence of nuisance, noise, by giving comfort and ease of access, and also through the symbolic importance it may have for the community.
The goal of the circle, made up of a meeting between all the people involved, is to re-establish the link amongst people through deep listening, and not to arrive at a pre-determined point. The facilitator(s) are only present in order to provide the necessary support for this connection to arise. The absence of rules, the intervention of the facilitator(s) only if required for a deeper hearing, and the intentional limitation of the ways in which they can intervene, recognizes the living nature and the group consciousness. This decentralization contributes, therefore, not only to a process enriched by the diversity of the contributions, but also to the durability of the results. Post-circles follow-up on the agreements made during a circle, to see if they have attained their objectives.
Such a system may seem too idealistic, yet it is through experience that this approach and its principles have been discovered. They have shown themselves to be effective, and new discoveries occur constantly. Finally, we arrive at the question of what we think is possible – our vision of the world. It is in the quest for that which we believe exists that we rediscover life's sacred structure in order to create a world of peace.
Martin Ping of the Hawthorne Valley Association shared his experiences of working in a long-standing community inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner concerning agriculture, education and the arts, including how the management of conflict ("zones of tension") enables creativity in service.
Soil, Soul & Society: A Love Story in Three Movements
Martin began by sharing that his home is in the tiny hamlet of Harlemville, NY, which has more cows than people. He noted that the seeming polarities that we witness in ourselves on a daily basis actually define what it means to be human. We stand in two places at once, attempting to harmonize what is sometimes a tense zone between a physical being, incarnated into matter, and a spiritual being with a task on earth. It is helpful to have this sense of the two aspects of our being as a perspective in meeting the challenges of world events as well as the challenges of daily work life.
Hawthorne Valley is a working 400 acre biodynamic farm with dairy cows. There is a dairy processing centre, a bakery and kraut cellar, and a full line store. On the farm is a nursery through grade 12 Waldorf School, an agro-ecological research centre, Farmscape, a Centre for Social Research, Walking the Dog theater company, and other programs. In addition to the school, around 30 children have been coming up to the farm every week since 1972, often from challenging inner city environments. They show up on a Monday and live in the main house of the farm until Friday before returning to their city homes. Over the years about 25 thousand children have lived in the house. There is also a farmer training program, with 10 apprentices on the farm every year. The Farm Beginnings program offers courses to farmers and prospective farmers throughout the Hudson Valley, and the USDA just awarded Hawthorne Valley a $700,000 grant to serve recently incarcerated people, returning veterans and immigrants.
About 200 people work at Hawthorne Valley and by integrating all these activities the goal is to find pathways towards the renewal of society and culture. It’s a lofty goal, no less lofty than rebuilding the shrine of human living. It’s really the same thing.
There is lot of production agriculture at Hawthorne Valley, and it is not an easy way to make a living, especially at a small scale. And when you combine the agriculture, the marketing and retailing of our produce, the schooling of children, scientific and cultural research, everything becomes that bit more difficult. A new kind of social muscle is developed. There is a zone of tension that we work within, requiring that we constantly learn new ways of how to get along so we don’t drive each other crazy or just give up and quit and run away. Over the years I have come to appreciate the way in which all of the creative juices resolve in that tension zone. The longer you can stay in it, the longer you can find new ways of solving problems, new ways of doing things. Collaboration is the only thing that is going to solve the issues of the day. We are living in anti-social times and there are forces that really make it difficult for human beings to work together to build this shrine of human living. Anything that prompts us or gives us the practice at developing these social muscles is a good thing. Through the last 43 years Hawthorne Valley has been like a microcosm of the whole system, learning to cooperate and work as an organism.
Take, as an example, the Farmscape Ecology Program which, in a rational scientific way explores what systems are already in place on the land, what is already living there and what relationships exist that we should be aware of before any agriculture begins. With this understanding we can then work in a collaborative, harmonious way with the natural environment. A biologist, a botanist, anthropologist and technician are all full-time staff members of the Program, researching and advising not only at the Hawthorne Valley farm, but throughout Colombia County and now a little more up and down the Hudson Valley.
Another example of our efforts to cooperate with the natural environment is in the practice of bio-dynamics, which views the farm as a living organism and takes care not to push the land, the animals or the people out of balance. Soil is a big focus as we work to build soil fertility, actually grow the soil which then grows our food. Then, doing all of this, you need to make at least a reasonable living. This happens through adding value to the food produced directly on the farm and through direct marketing to our customers in our own green markets and stores. There is an educational piece to this marketing, with the intention of helping our customers become mindful co-producers. It is a whole economic system that we are generating.
So how did all of this come about? The founding impulse is key. Then, place really matters, people really matter, time really matters. Think about today, and all that goes into one day. And then think about all the days that have elapsed since July 30, 1972 when the farm was purchased – it’s somewhere in the region of 15 thousand days. Imagine over all this time, the thousands of people, the amazing relationships that have gone into creating such a place.
One of our founders was Karl Ege. He was the last teacher that Rudolf Steiner trained in Stuttgart. Steiner had told him that if he could design schools and education again he would turn the rudder 180 degrees towards the practical and the education of the will. It was this impulse, the training of that very mysterious quality of will that became central to the vision of Hawthorne Valley – linking education and agriculture. Here is a final thought from Karl. It is as relevant today as it was in the early 1970s:
"For today something entirely new is striving to develop. What is this? It is the social structure of the coming age. Through insight into the positive spiritual impulses now emerging it must take shape. We cannot think out this development ourselves; we can only consider ourselves as servants of those forces which are seeking to find their way into mankind."
Karl Ege, An Evident Need of our Times.
In conclusion, Karl Ege's thought beautifully expresses the idea of rebuilding the shrine of human living, and calls us all to apply the fiery Spirit of Relationship in breaking down the barriers between us so that we may serve the whole with goodwill to all.
Rev. Tom Ravetz is a priest of the Christian Community – a denomination inspired by Rudolf Steiner.
Thomas Bohrn works in the field of telemedicine, specifically focused on the early detection of selected cardiovascular risk factors mainly related to the quality of the flow of blood in different parts of our physical body.
Daniel Hersann is a member of the management of a Swiss subsidiary of a global IT company and the company's CFO.
Rajesh Makwana is the executive director at Share The World’s Resources which campaigns for a fairer sharing of wealth, power and resources within and between nations.
Jimena Leiva Roesch was actively involved in the negotiations to draw up the Sustainable Development Goals as a Counselor with the Permanent Mission of Guatemala to the United Nations. Jimena now works as a Policy Analyst with the International Peace Institute.
Judit Hegedus is Executive Director of College Board International, assisting students from the US and around the world to attend universities here and abroad.
Hilary Harvey is a leadership development consultant and executive. Michael Harvey is a consultant for a think tank and strategic advisory firm working with businesses to catalyse leadership on sustainability. Clarence Harvey was vice-principal in a Steiner school and has run events on soul-based education since the late 1990s. All three are associated with WYSE (World Youth Service & Enterprise) International.
Oliver Rizzi Carlson edits the newsletter of the Global Campaign for Peace Education. He hosts learning spaces with young people on the culture of peace, both at school and beyond.
Martin Ping is Chief Executive of the Hawthorne Valley Association.